There was this show that was on some time ago called The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, produced by Tina Fey. It’s this story of a woman named Kimmy Schmidt who was kidnapped as a child by a cult leader and raised in an underground bunker for years before being freed, and she has to adjust to a world entirely different from her early-90s image from before she was, well, kidnapped. Now, that might sound dark, but if you know Tina Fey, I hope you know that it’s a wacky hijinks hilarious show.
But in one episode, Kimmy is talking to her roommate about how to get through something really hard. She used the image of turning the crank for the bunker’s generator, and how she would always “count to ten.” The logic was, you can do anything for ten seconds. That way, she could do monotonous, difficult tasks, as long as she could just take them ten seconds at a time. A lot of this year has been like that, needing to be taken ten seconds at a time. But there is good news on the way!
As I’m sure y’all have heard, three different vaccines have gotten through their safety trials and are on their way to FDA approval. I was listening to the radio earlier and most medical experts are suggesting we may have the vaccine available to the general population by springtime—which is really only a few months away when you think about it. It’s like a light at the end of the tunnel, hope for an end to this really hard time we’ve been having the past year. We just have to make it a few more months.
And in a way, I think that makes it more bearable. When you know something is going to end, you can endure it because you know it’s not going to be forever. You know there’s an end point to the hardship, an endpoint to the isolation, an endpoint to the lost opportunities to gather. It’s just a few more months; we can do this!
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God!”
Isaiah knew a thing or two about needing to endure the present to reach a hoped-for future when he wrote those words. See, I mentioned it last week, but this part of Isaiah was written with a particular experience in mind. The people of Israel had just experienced a complete and utter disaster. They’d seen Jerusalem sacked and burned by the Babylonians and the Temple of God burned to the ground. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, they were carted off to Babylon, to live in exile, for who knows how long. Whatever connection they had to their home, their traditions, their ancestors, was severed. They weren’t even sure if God was still with them.
It was like our waiting in this pandemic, enduring all the disappointments and difficulties, the suffering and the death. It has been a hard nine months of being vigilant for the sake of our neighbor: wearing a mask in public places, keeping six feet apart, washing our hands several times a day, going virtual with school, some of us even having to suffer through our own COVID illness or suffer watching a loved one going through it. Hardship was no stranger to Isaiah and his people in Babylon. They all needed some kind of reassurance, some reminder that they weren’t alone, some word of hope that it wasn’t going to be forever.
So Isaiah spoke up with the words of God. He gave these people an end point, a set of ten seconds they could count to so they could endure the hardship of exile in a foreign land. He pointed their eyes at the horizon, telling them that salvation was on the way. An end was in sight. They just had to be patient and endure, because God was coming. Hope was one the way.
Hope was one the way—in the wilderness?
This highway that God was building, was calling on the people to build, was in the wilderness. The wilderness was not a nice place. It wasn’t a place of idyllic meadows or pleasant hikes, beautiful vistas or secret waterfalls. In Isaiah’s world, the wilderness was a dangerous place. It was a place of no water. It was a place where wild beasts roamed. It was a place you didn’t go to unless you had no other choice. But the wilderness was where God was going to build a highway. The wilderness was where God was coming from.
So that’s where John went to announce the coming Messiah. He went out to the wilderness around the Jordan to announce God’s coming, and called on the people to repent. Out in the wilderness, people could realize just how deeply they needed God. They could come to terms with how helpless they are without God’s ongoing presence in their lives. The wilderness is the perfect place for God’s highway because it reminds us that God doesn’t come to us from a place of comfort or privilege or certainty. God comes to us instead from the places of doubt, or brokenness, or lostness, or sickness. God comes to us through the hard parts of the world that we have to endure, because God was going to endure them with us.
But the good news is this: that God is coming. Like the vaccine that is on its way, God is approaching with salvation in hand for us. God is on the way, winding through the broken terrain of the wilderness, over the shifting sands and through the dusty salt plains to come and meet us where we are. God isn’t requiring us to come first, to make our way to the shiny palaces or the gilded halls of certainty or comfort or perfection. No, the word is “comfort, O comfort my people! They have served their term. Here is your God! Coming to feed the flock like a shepherd.”
Under the light of two candles in this Advent season, we are one step closer to God-with-us. We are one step closer to the full hope that Christ brings. And we can endure this time, whatever the hardships, because we know the end is in sight. We know God is on the way, and that God brings salvation for us. May we find the hope to endure a little while longer.
Thanks be to God. Amen.